An interview with Philippe Thiebaud : ‘France backs peace talks with Taliban’

An interview with Philippe Thiebaud :  ‘France backs peace talks with Taliban’

LAHORE: French Ambassador to Pakistan Philippe Thiebaud has said that it is the responsibility of the Pakistani government to ensure peace and security in the country while treading the democratic path.
He said that his country was supportive of the Pakistan government, but France was “not dictating anything [to Pakistani authorities] in this regard”.
Talking exclusively to Daily Times, he said that France had a strong desire to increase bilateral as well as EU countries’ trade ties with Pakistan.
Q: How the French government is seeing Pakistani government’s peace talks with the Taliban?
A: Well, we are in favour of democracy in Pakistan and it is an internal issue of Pakistan. We have some common objectives. This is of course the responsibility of the government to ensure peace and security in the country through a democratic process. We are supportive of Pakistani government, but certainly we do not dictate anything in this regard. However, we (France) do consider success of democracy in Pakistan.
Q: Pakistan is facing a security crisis. Recently, a meeting of the France-Pakistan Security Commission has been held. What outcome you see out of that, since no support has practically been given to Pakistan?
A: We are having regular exchange views in the Security Exchange Commission, and a meeting in this connection was held on January 18 this year. We have new projects on creating a police academy for training police officers with the cooperation of the National Police Academy in Pakistan for the betterment of Pakistani police.
Q: The Pakistan France Business Alliance (PFBA) was established in 1991 under the patronage of then French ambassador to Pakistan Pierre Masset. Now you are the patron-in-chief. What initiatives are you taking for the promotion of business and trade?
A: Well, the Pakistani French Business Alliance is a very successful gathering, through which 20 members of different companies were active in trade and business with Pakistan. I am going to meet the business community in Karachi, and then in Lahore, on April, there is a gathering of the PFBA where we will hold discussions for the development of trade. We are also cooperating with the chambers of commerce and industries in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, where large delegations meet with French businessmen in order to develop trade between the two countries. After the GSP Plus status, Pakistan has been given access to EU markets. We are trying to develop the business-to-business ties by maintaining a regular contact between the business communities of both the countries.
Q: What about the soft visa policy for the business community?
A: We are creating a soft visa policy for the chamber of commerce. We are really trying to accommodate [traders] as much as possible, issuing exchange visas to regular businessmen going to the EU on Schengen visas. 
Q: The US consulate and the British Council are established in Lahore, the provincial capital of the largest-populated Punjab province of Pakistan. Do you have any plan to open up a French consulate in the future in Lahore?
A: I cannot make a commitment for establishing a consulate in the near future, but we already have a cultural centre in the Ali Institute. A lot of collaboration is being done through this institute with the people of Pakistan.   
Q: Pakistan School of Fashion and Design was established with the support of France and this school is successfully supporting our domestic textile industry. However, for increasing exports and ensuring more input in export-oriented targets after the GSP Plus status, are you doing something or planning to develop this school further?
A:  Well, we are serious in export of textile and garments to EU markets after and European Union granted the GSP Plus status to Pakistan. A large range of Pakistani products (textile and garments) are sent to the EU. There has been a $1 billion increase in exports to the EU. I visited the Pakistan School of Fashion and Design last summer and met the academic staff of school, and we are activating an exchange programme. Some Pakistani students will go to France for different projects. Professors (exchanges) are also included (in this project).
Q: You also hold a degree in political science. Do you have any project or plan to educate the voters of Pakistan?
A: Its not only France, but all EU countries have send observers in the general election in May. The EU observers did not say voting was positive, but was much better than done during the previous elections. Meanwhile, we are supporting institutions, NGOs, electoral commission and the Pakistani government. We have put some suggestion on the table for the electoral process on the provincial level too.
Q: France has been ranked the third biggest country in energy transition performance in the world. Our country is having a serious issue of shortfall of electricity and gas. How France can support Pakistan in the energy sector? 
A: Yes, we are of course coordinating with the Pakistani government on two major sectors – one through our development agency AFD – supporting and financing hydroelectricity projects for increasing electricity generation. 
We are supporting energy projects in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and the northern parts, so these projects are very important. France, Germany and EU are supporting Pakistan in the hydroelectricity projects. Regarding the private sector, we have cooperation in the electricity generation, fossil and gas utility. France is supporting two power projects in Uch Sharif; one is working and the second is under construction. Once it is completed, the total energy production will be 1,100MW. We are bringing different technologies with the cooperation of the federal and provincial governments.
Q: What about knowledge exchange and translation of books into local language?
A: Well many writers are working on this. We have some French writers interested in working in Pakistan. One of our French writers is writing a biography of famous singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. 
Q: What is the French government doing for students who want to get education in French universities and colleges?
A: We are running a programme in collaboration with the HEC in Pakistan at the level of masters and PhD, and as many as 600 Pakistani students will visit France on scholarships. We provide need-based scholarships to students of under-developed areas. These students are provided an opportunity to study in Pakistan, and maybe at a later stage, they can have a chance to visit and study in France.
Q: What is the common perception of Pakistan in France?
A: We have a longstanding relationship, but the situation of law and order is bad. The role of media in Pakistan is also perceived to be ‘not good’ in the EU and France. However, people do realise that Pakistan is suffering in the war on terror. The country is fighting terrorism and has also met with natural calamities in the form of earthquakes and floods. 
Bio-data: French Ambassador to Pakistan Philippe Thiebaud is serving in Pakistan for the last two years. He has vast diplomatic and management experience. He has earned educational degrees: Institute of Political Science, Ecole Nationale d’Administration, promotion Voltaire (National School of Administration, PhD). He also served as First Secretary, Mexico in 1982 and in 1985 as Counsellor, Permanent Mission to the European Union (Brussels). In 1994 he served as First Counsellor, Permanent Mission to the United Nations, New York. In 1999 as Vice President, International Relations, Atomic Energy Commission (Commissariat à l’ Energie atomique), Governor for France to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). In 2005 he served as Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Republic of Korea, Seoul.

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